Friday, 16 August 2013

Christ's 'Satisfaction of Wrath' - What's the Anglican Problem?

These are just a few preliminary thoughts regarding the apparently contested line in Stuart Townend's song In Christ Alone, "And on the cross, where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied", but I'm puzzling over what some Anglicans find objectionable here.

In the 1662 BCP service of the Lord's Supper, it says that on the cross Christ made a "full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world". The same point is reinforced in the Thirty-nine Articles:

The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone.
So for Anglicans, Christ's death can certainly be seen as a 'satisfaction for sin'. But what (or who) is 'satisfied', and can we say it was 'God's wrath'? Once again, the articles come to our help:
Original Sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation.
According to this Article, then, in "every person born into this world [the flesh] deserveth God's wrath" because that flesh is the "fault and corruption of the Nature of ... man" - which may properly be called 'sin'.

Now at this point there are always those who want to chip in and say the Articles are no longer applicable or appropriate. But the point is that they, with the Prayer Book itself, are a summary of Anglican beliefs certainly as they once stood and, for some of us, as they still stand. (And remember, all Anglican clergy have to assent to the Articles and the Prayer Book.)

So, for those who are having trouble keeping up, sin (which affects us all) deserves God's wrath. But on the cross Jesus made a 'full satisfaction' for sin. And, as the Articles again tell us:
The Son, which is the Word of the Father ... truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us ... (II. Of the Word orSon of God, which was made very Man)
The point not to miss here is the comment about the cross reconciling the Father to us. Without the cross, then, we are not reconciled to the Father, neither is He reconciled to us. Rather, as Scripture says and the Articles affirm, we are by nature objects of wrath (Eph 2:3)

Thanks to the cross, we are no longer objects of wrath (on this we are all surely agreed), but if the cross is a 'satisfaction for sin', and sin is the reason for God's wrath against us, then surely God's wrath is one of the things for which the cross 'makes satisfaction'.

That being the case, surely the only criticisms of Townend's words, as far as Anglicans are concerned, have to rest on the fact that he was working with the stylistic constraints of rhyming 'died' with 'satisfied'. Perhaps Anglican purists would have preferred he had taken a leaf out of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' song book and found an alternative to rhyme with 'satisfaction', but he didn't. Maybe next week. Meanwhile, I suggest Anglicans need to be a bit clearer what exactly the fuss is about.

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  1. The problem's not where you think it is. The problem is that there are too many people who do not or will not understand the difference between wrath and anger.

    Wrath is about consequences - for example, if you put your hand on a hot surface and hold it there you will get burnt, and it will hurt.

    However much people may choose to deny it, or however much argument we have about what it is, sin also has fixed consequences - it separates humanity from God. The "wrath of God" could in fact be defined in that way, and the fact that God satisfies that wrath such that humanity can be reconciled to God is a cause for celebration.

    Anger is about emotional response to misfortune. It is a learnt and chosen response. Those who propound the belief that talking about "the wrath of God" is in effect portraying God as an angry man out for revenge are off-beam - seriously off-beam.

    1. James, you may be aware that the "wrath of God as consequences" line was taken by CH Dodd in his commentary on Romans - back in the 1940s or 50s. It enjoyed a brief popularity as a 'theodicy' but it has, I think, fallen out of favour since then.

    2. John Stott has comprehensively debunked the Dodd view - that wrath should be understood as an essentially impersonal consequence or law of nature - in The Cross of Christ.

      Confining the use of "anger" to humans and ."wrath" to God on the grounds of human sin is roughly parallel to saying that we should always say "love" when speaking of God but use another word for human love - for that too is tainted by sin!


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  2. James, surely there is a bit more to wrath than just consequences and more than "just" separation, thinking some of Jesus parables on the subject, vengeance is mine etc.

    John, good question to ask re: Anglicans. Of course it isn't a distinctly Anglican doctrine. At the time of the Reformation there was no dispute about this, only how one received the benefits of Jesus atoning death. It's just what Christians have always thought. It's how we know what love is, while we were still sinners...

    Darren Moore

  3. To keep this song out of your church's hymnbook on the basis of this one line, as the Presbyterian Church (USA) has done, strikes me as extraordinary.

    If the song is not worthy of inclusion, that's fair enough, but that has clearly not been the reason. If the "wrath" cannot be justified biblically, it's also fair enough, but you'd be very hard pushed to argue that. What remains is that it's a great song, with sound biblical theology, but the PCUSA (and others) doesn't like said theology.

    Well, if you or I would refuse to sing it on that basis, that's one thing. But to deprive an entire denomination of it is, it seems to me, tantamount to redacting scripture itself by refusing to sing those parts of it that you don't like. Of course, this kind of thing is old hat (lectionary anyone?) but it still jars when you bump into it.

    For Anglicans, as you say, the theology of the Articles and the BCP should be clear enough. But let's be frank, that's not going to impress anyone who wasn't already convinced.

    1. But Peter, their concern was precisely that this phrase is not in Scripture--they were clearly happy to sing the rest. And they asked the authors if they could sing it with this one, unscriptural, line changed.

  4. Andrew Godsall, Exeter19 August 2013 at 12:08

    John I think you've done this before....
    A great response by Tom Wright to this - from a sermon he preached in Durham Cathedral on Maundy Thursday:

    "This is what happens when people present over-simple stories, as the mediaeval church often did, followed by many since, with an angry God and a loving Jesus, with a God who demands blood and doesn’t much mind whose it is as long as it’s innocent. You’d have thought people would notice that this flies in the face of John’s and Paul’s deep-rooted theology of the love of the triune God: not ‘God was so angry with the world that he gave us his son’ but ‘God so loved the world that he gave us his son’. That’s why, when I sing that interesting recent song and we come to the line, ‘And on the cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied’, I believe it’s more deeply true to sing ‘the love of God was satisfied’, and I commend that alteration to those of you who sing that song, which is in other respects one of the very few really solid recent additions to our repertoire."

    And Tom Wright is an evangelical.....

    What all Anglican Clergy assent to is that the articles and prayer book are 'historic formularies'. They tell us what people thought then. It doesn't mean that thinking hasn't moved on.

  5. Andrew,
    If 'historic formularies' are out of date and have been replaced with thinking that has moved on, then why are Anglican clergy still be asked to assent to them? You don't seem to hold the word 'historic' in very high regard.

    Fortunately, it's the Presbyterians who have a problem with wrath. If it was the Methodists, a large number of Charles Wesley's hymns might find themselves on the cutting-room floor. But then you wouldn't need copyright permission to change the meaning of one of his. Just as well, you wouldn't have got it.

  6. Sadly, Andrew, I think your quote merely shows Wright in a bad light.

    As to the formularies, like you say, we've been there before. I take them seriously.

  7. Richard, Which Presbyterians would they be? Some in PCUSA & C of S perhaps, but none that I know. (I do know Methodists who do)

    Andrew, 2 things
    1st, if at ordination someone merely states that the Prayer Book etc. are historic formula, does that mean an atheist or a Muslim could be ordained saying, "yes, that's right... that's the historic formula (that I'm rejecting)"

    2nd, If you can't use the Townend hymn in worship, then John's point is that you can't use many Anglican prayers either, including the BCP communion service.

    I think Wright's point was that Townend has the balance wrong, not that he is totally wrong. I think Townend knew what he was doing.

  8. If Tom Wright said these things, then so much the worse for him.

    'The love of God was satisfied' doesn't really make any sense.'

    Evangelicals generally esteem Wright but we don't think him infallible, and are ready to call him out when he doesn't expound the Bible was accurately as he could, or when he indulges in shooting straw men.

    Mark B., W. Kent

  9. John the reason why many Anglicans have a problem with the phrase 'the satisfaction of the wrath of God' is just because, as you actually point out, the phrase is not there in the BCP, and neither is it anywhere in the NT.

    'Satisfaction' in the BCP derives from satis and facere--Jesus death does all that is needed. You yourself need to put 2 + 2 together to make 5 in order to create the phrase.

    The NT does say we are saved from or rescued from the wrath of God, but nowhere says God's wrath was 'satisfied'. These ideas are quite different from one another, and I think anyone wanting their theology to be shaped with biblical priorities is right to object to this phrase.

  10. Ian, there are a number of phrases which don't occur in the BCP or Bible to describe truths about God and the world.

    "Jesus' death does all that is needed about God's anger." Good enough?

    How about changing the line in Townsend's song to:

    "Till on that cross as Jesus died,
    The wrath of God was turned aside."?

    1. Not really, because this still strays from NT ideas about the relation between God's wrath and Jesus' death. I'd be happy with 'God's wrath need no longer be feared by those who are in Christ since God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.'

    2. Doesn't really rhyme though does it...

      Ian, how then do you see Christ reconciling the world to himself (I don't think anyone will disagree with that). & how does this reconciling mean that his wrath be no longer feared (again something nobody will disagree with) - in way that's any different to the song? (or the Athanasius comment on Ps 88:7 & 16 linked to in a comment below)

    3. Ian, you and I both agree on, "God's wrath need no longer be feared by those who are in Christ since God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself."

      Is our difference that I COULD end the sentence by adding, "by the cross", as in, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21, cf Rom 5:10; Eph 2:16)?

      I would see this addition as unexceptionable, and compatible with my suggestion about Townsend's lyrics.

      Am I still missing something?

  11. Andrew Godsall, Exeter20 August 2013 at 09:38

    John: (and others)
    I'm not sure quite where you make the move from my saying that there have been developments since the 39 articles to me saying that I don't take them seriously, or worse, that I reject them. It doesn't work that way.
    The Prayer Book is similar. Both those things describe the C of E as it was developing after a time of considerable political and religious unrest - and we can't emphasise the word considerable too much. Now I have the privilege in my job of going to many different churches of many different traditions. I never see the Prayer Book used at a main sunday servcie. Never. That doesn't mean it isn't any good. It just means that our understanding of liturgy, and especxially in the light of our understanding of early Church tradition, has enabled us to move on a bit. Common Worship is better for our purposes. The Articles and Prayer book were very significant staging posts - and that is why we refer to them as historic formularies.

    Mark B, I can assure you that Tom Wright did say these things. I'm sorry that John thinks that doesn't show him in a good light. John, I don't think many things on your blog show either you or our christian faith in a very good light but we live in a world where discussion is possible, and I'm glad about that.

  12. Andrew, I never said you don't take the Articles seriously. I left that one for you to fill in, and from what you're saying, you do. So I refer you again to my post above and ask, "Doesn't it fit the Articles and BCP?"

    As to the BCP being used at a main Sunday service, it is here in our fastest-growing congregation - almost fourfold in as many years. So the BCP is still usable.

    As to the things on my blog not showing me in a good light, isn't that why you enjoy it so much? ;-)

  13. Andrew Godsall, Exeter20 August 2013 at 10:11

    I'm not sure it fits really - I suggest that the Articles and BCP were written in the way that they were to try and push a particular line that was nearer Calvin at that point in reformation history. The phrase your post refers to is pushing buttons of a particualr interpretation of eucharistic theology of course - and we know that the C of E has a wide range of views about that!

    I enjoy your blog so much because it allows proper debate. Anglican 'Mainstream' doesn't allow any, and StandFirm is just full of unpleasant ranting.

    1. Andrew,
      Is that quite right about the BCP? 1662 is 102 years after Calvin died. Cranmer had done 2 versions of the prayer book, ending in 1552. There was then the Elizabethan settlement, then 1662, BCP was in manyways a big disappointment to the Calvinists at the time... which is why some like it as a nice compromise. Hooker, one generation after Calvin, is where the Anglican self-understanding came from. I guess before that Anglicans saw themselves as part of a wider movement.

  14. Andrew, I'm glad you enjoy more than the controversy. BTW I really meant to thank you for a comment you posted on Thinking Anglicans regarding appointments. I hope you know which one I mean!

  15. At Calvary, Christ drank the cup of God's wrath to the dregs. Is that not similar to saying that He satisfied God's wrath? Certainly both link the cross with the experience of, and quantified removal of, divine wrath.

    And a question - could those who have a problem with the line in the Townend hymn clarify whether they believe in penal substitution? Because I'm not clear from the discussion above whether the doctrine is in question, or the accuracy of its expression.

    Tom Woolford

  16. Related link, penal substitutionary atonement isn't a new idea

  17. Our 'misapprehensions' about the cross seem to go back a long way:

    God sent his only son our Saviour Christ into this world ... and by shedding of his most precious blood, to make a sacrifice and satisfaction, or (as it may be called) amends to his Father for our sins, to assuage his wrath and indignation conceived against us ...

    ... whereas all the world was not able of themselves to pay any part towards their ransom, it pleased our heavenly Father of his infinite mercy, without any our desert or deserving, to prepare for us the most precious jewels of Christ’s body and blood, whereby our ransom might be fully paid, the law fulfilled, and his justice fully satisfied.

    [God] hath given his own natural Son ... to be incarnated, and to take our mortal nature upon him, with the infirmities of the same, and in the same nature to suffer most shameful and painful death for our offences, to the intent to justify us, and to restore us to life everlasting: so making us also his dear children ...

    And yet, I say, did Christ put himself between GODS deserved wrath, and our sin, and rent that obligation wherein we were in danger to GOD, and paid our debt (Colossians 2.14).

    Let us know for a certainty, that if the most dearly beloved Son of GOD was thus punished and stricken for the sin which he had not done himself: how much more ought we sore to be stricken for our daily and manifold sins which we commit against GOD,

    For if GOD (saith Saint Paul) hath not spared his own Son from pain and punishment, but delivered him for us all unto the death: how should he not give us all other things with him (Romans 8.32)?

    Then, even then did Christ the Son of God, by the appointment of his Father, come down from heaven, to be wounded for our sakes, to be reputed with the wicked, to be condemned unto death, to take upon him the reward of our sins, and to give his Body to be broken on the Crosse for our offences.

    Was not this a manifest token of God's great wrath and displeasure towards sin, that he could be pacified by no other means, but only by the sweet and precious blood of his dear Son?

    (All from the Anglican 'Book of Homilies'

  18. I understand that the PCUSA wished to substitute "the love of God was magnified" for "the wrath of God was satisfied". So a question for those who would prefer that: how was the love of God magnified by the cross?

    Stephen Walton

  19. NT Wright's suggestion "the love of God is satisfied" is inane. Whether you agree with it or not, it is clear what "the wrath of God is satisfied means": that God's wrath is exhausted, it will go no farther, it will take no more action, God is no longer angry with us. So "the love of God is satisfied" means that God's love is exhausted, it will go no farther, it will take no more action, that God no longer loves us.

    Stephen Walton

  20. Stephen, thank you for this comment - you have amplified - nay, Magnified - what I said earlier about Wright's words 'the love of God was satisfied' makes no sense. Perhaps Wright doesn't know what 'satisfaction' means?

    Mark B., W. Kent

  21. David Od from the Low Countries had trouble posting the following, so I'm posting it on his behalf:

    I don't know whether there are 'misapprehensions' or not, but it is not
    always obvious that there is optimal clarity.

    When Stuart Townsend says, "And on the cross, where Jesus died, the wrath
    of God was satisfied", he is also necessarily saying (something like),
    "And on the cross, where and when Jesus the Incarnate God the Son died
    according to His human nature, the wrath of Christ our True God was
    Similarly, the quotation from the 'Book of Homilies', "And yet, I say, did
    Christ put himself between GODS deserved wrath, and our sin, and rent that
    obligation wherein we were in danger to GOD, and paid our debt" must also
    be saying (something like), "And yet did Christ our True God put Himself
    between His Own deserved Divine wrath, and our sin, and rent that
    obligation wherein we were in danger to One God in Three Persons, Father,
    Son, and Holy Ghost, and paid our debt."

    Is that always coming across as clearly aa it might?


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